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Xie xie ni Oliver, thank you for the days.

"Every man and every living creature has the sacred right to the gladness of spring."  Leo Tolstoy

Whenever I quote my favourite saying, it's always Oliver's image that comes to mind. His love of Spring always seemed to encapsulate the beauty of the season, and I never tired of watching him shuffling around in his beloved enclosure, as he nosed his way through the daisies, took his brave dip in the still cool pool, and tilted his head to watch a passing butterfly float by.

oliver 1Even watching him sleep, was bear perfection in anyone's books. Lying there on the grass, deeply contented, and blissfully unaware that a heart was bursting with emotion just close by, for the love of this brave and mighty bear.

oliver 2Don't get me wrong. Oliver wasn't perfect and had a decidedly difficult side. Swiping out angrily when our very patient team tried to spray him with topical medication for any wounds, or huffing rather grumpily when he was offered an "illegal" treat not quite to his taste.

oliver 3But oh how we loved him - how everyone who set eyes on him loved him too. How rich we'd be if we had a penny for every time someone sobbed their heart out on the roof of his house. Helpless with grief, as they gazed down at him walking like a strange mechanical toy, and remembered those long 30 years he'd suffered in the prison of mankind's making. How many stories told of school or university days, of working lives, of marriages, of children and grandchildren being born, and growing up, as Oliver and his body grew old in the cage.

oliver daisiesHard as it may seem, I thank the farmer who agreed to give him up. His family poverty was everywhere on that memorable day in April 2010 when we arrived to rescue Oliver and 9 other bears. Hard to forgive the years as Oliver wasted away - in pain, in boredom, for those immeasurable 262,800 hours. But forgive we must, if Oliver's rescue and remaining hours in the sun are to be a symbol of what can be achieved for caged bears still waiting, when empathy and justice prevails.

To the farmers in China with Oliver's of their own - and who know by now the very truth of the trade. Are you willing to speak out in honour of your bears' last years? Can you find it in your heart to join bear farmer Mr Yan in Nanning, who recently agreed that his bears could find true sanctuary, as we work together in the years ahead, converting his farm from misery to peace?

Oliver 4As Oliver lies in rest, just yards from where he enjoyed five springs and summers, I think of his spirit, free from pain, as his young limbs romp in the great sanctuary in the sky, with Andrew, and Chu Chu, and new found friends. Every crescent moon will shine more brightly as we remember his final goodbye – carrying the words of our poem by his grave, as a beacon for all farmed bears:

"Please look upon the others and give them promise of hope soon, and tell them to be patient, and proudly wear the moon".

And, as Tolstoy's words also ring true and proud, we thank you Oliver for those brief, but endlessly precious years, of sharing your dignity and your pleasure of freedom, knowing we will never, ever forget.... our beautiful, broken bear.

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